New York-based media watchdog group urges Cuba to free jailed journalists, improve conditions

By Paul Haven, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Media group urges Cuba to free jailed journalists

HAVANA — A media watchdog group called on Cuba to release jailed independent journalists — or at least improve their prison conditions — and said Thursday it would hold the government responsible for the health of an opposition reporter staging a hunger strike.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Cuba, an island of just 11.4 million, has 22 reporters in its jails — putting it behind only China and Iran on the global list.

“Cuban journalists have paid an extremely high price for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Carlos Lauria, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said in a statement. “These sentences are cruel and vengeful.”

Cuba considers dissidents mercenaries of Washington who take money to try and destabilize the country’s communist government, and it routinely dismisses groups like CPJ as agents of the U.S. government.

Many members of the small community of independent journalists in Havana use Internet service provided by the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Cuba instead of an embassy. The journalists say it is the only way they can file in a country where access to the Web is prohibitively expensive and tightly controlled. Cuba says it is evidence they are stooges.

Independent journalist Guillermo Farinas has been refusing food and water for more than a week to protest the Feb. 23 death of another hunger striking dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Farinas is also demanding the release of 33 political prisoners who are in poor health.

The 48-year-old lost consciousness and was hospitalized on Wednesday, but released a short time later after doctors told him they could do nothing for him if he refused to eat.

“He remains firm in his hunger strike,” Farinas’ mother, Alicia Hernandez, told The Associated Press by telephone Thursday, from the family home in the central city of Santa Clara.

CPJ said conditions in Cuban jails are poor and the cells unhygienic, leading to illnesses and exacerbating existing conditions.

“We call on President (Raul) Castro to free all the jailed reporters immediately and without condition, and to guarantee freedom of expression and information to all Cuban citizens,” the journalist group said.

will not be displayed